The basement has been a special challenge. When you tackle a major project, you imagine the easy parts and the hard parts and the gusty "hard work" that ambition and excitement abstract into something challenging but manageable; like running a couple of miles if you're not really a runner. You know you can do it, it's not a marathon, and it promises to spit you out the other side worn and stout, having earned your victory. Inevitably, however, there are high hurdles that you don't anticipate, and they are rarely physical. That would be too easy. I suspect my subconscious shields me from foresight when too much thought might curtail my natural ambition.
Enter: The Basement.
The day we first toured the house, I declined to view the basement. Instead, I hovered by the door with our realtor taking shallow breaths as the lead dust swirled around our heads while Malcolm and The Seller descended into the crypt trading anecdotes about tools, record collections and mold. Waiting for them to emerge so I could read the verdict in Malcolm's eyes, I stood, infused with awe at the condition of our dream house and laughing nervously with Louise.
The basement was a cave of dank, damp, creepy-crawly funk; a wild froth of decay and microscopic life. It teemed with spiders who crept in through the cracks of the boarded up windows and laid eggs in glowing white sacs. Cloaked by a decade or more of opaque darkness with steady moisture coming up from the ground and in from the sides thanks to a crumbling, rusty downspout, it was like the abyss of the ocean supporting a unique and terrifying ecosystem. Access was via a hanging chad of a staircase which finally pulled away from the wall and literally collapsed as the men emerged from their tour, momentarily trapping The Seller below grade until Malcolm could hoist him back to the surface.
When the day came for my maiden voyage, we descended by ladder, armed with battery operated power tools and the meager beams of three flashlights. The immediate goal was to dig out the bricked up windows, let the light stream in and find the clue to staunching the flow of water. The spiders; the mold; the fungal growths spreading across the spongy beams; the draconian jars of preserved food that looked ready to explode and send vapors and spores of horror into the enclosed space: it all called for immediate action. Every itch of anxiety I have ever felt about bugs, germs, or the creeping underworld was muted by the spectacle of this environment.
Inside this funky chamber, my imagination runs before my intellect. Every flicker of beam or tickle in the shadows is a spider. It took me whole minutes to contemplate and at last remove my first whisper of cobweb no bigger than the head of a Q-Tip. But, I am cocooned in hazmat and the squeamishness gradually ebbs having merely been the runway for the higher hurdle that takes hold of me in the basement: doubt.
Can we really save this house? Did we get here in time? Have we bitten off more than we can chew? Is the foundation sound? What if the whole thing collapses on our heads? What if it's the Money Pit? Could I really be this lucky? This happy? Will the dream be shattered by a horrible disease contracted in this basement? In other words, and really the root of the matter: will I fail?
It wouldn't be fair to say "we" because Malcolm does not ask these questions. We are on this ride together but we each arrived by our own path with its itinerant experiences and their emotional aftermath. In this moment, in the alchemy of our "now", we balance each other and my fear is answered by his conviction.
Can we really do this? "Piece of cake," he says.